Russia does not rule out “constructive dialogue” with the United States even though relations between Moscow and Washington are in a “deplorable state,” the Kremlin’s spokesman said a day after the U.S. reported that a Russian fighter jet struck the propeller of a U.S. surveillance drone over the Black Sea, .
U.S. officials accused Russia of attempting to intercept the unmanned aerial vehicle, which American forces brought down. Asked Wednesday if the incident could inflame tensions with Washington, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated the Russian Defense Ministry’s statement that Russian jets didn’t use their weapons or impact the U.S. drone.
Peskov described U.S.-Russia relations as being at their lowest point but added that “Russia has never rejected a constructive dialogue, and it’s not rejecting it now.”
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the drone was flying in international airspace and over international waters when the encounter with the Russian fighter took place Tuesday. He stressed that the drone’s presence over the Black Sea was not an uncommon occurrence.
“It is also not uncommon for the Russians to try to intercept them,” Kirby said, adding that such an encounter “does increase the risk of miscalculations, misunderstandings.”
The MQ-9 Reaper drone has not yet been recovered and it was unclear whether it would be, he said.
“The last thing that we want, certainly the last thing that anybody should want, is for this war in Ukraine to escalate to become something between the United States and Russia, to have this actually … expand beyond that,” Kirby said, speaking Wednesday on CNN.
At the Pentagon, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the intercept by the Russian jet was part of a “pattern of aggressive, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace.” He said Russia must operate its aircraft in a safe manner.
“Make no mistake, the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows,” Austin said in opening remarks before a virtual meeting of a U.S.-led effort to coordinate Western military support for Ukraine.
While encounters between Russian and NATO aircraft are not unusual — before the invasion of Ukraine, NATO plans were involved in an annual average of 400 intercepts with Russian plans — the war has heightened the significance and potential hazards of such incidents.
The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, tweeted Wednesday that the drone incident was “a signal from (Russian President Vladimir) Putin that he is ready to expand the conflict zone, with drawing other parties in.”
Separately, the U.K. defense ministry said British and German air force fighter jets were scrambled Tuesday to intercept a Russian aircraft flying close to Estonian airspace. The U.K. and Germany are conducting joint air policing missions in Estonia as part of NATO’s bolstering of its eastern flank.
The defense ministry said the Typhoon jets responded after a Russian air-to-air refueling aircraft failed to communicate with Estonian air traffic control. The Russian plane did not enter the airspace of Estonia, a NATO member.
On the ground in Ukraine, the fighting ground on. At least three civilians were killed and another 23 wounded in the country by Russian strikes over the previous 24 hours, Ukraine’s presidential office said Wednesday morning.
In eastern Ukraine’s partially occupied Donetsk province, where much of the heaviest fighting has been concentrated, Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said a total of 14 cities and villages were shelled. That included Kramatorsk, a city where some of Ukraine’s military forces are based.
In embattled Bakhmut, where Russian forces have pressed a months-long assault to capture the city, Ukrainian forces have successfully fought for northern parts of the city, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said.
“There are certain and significant successes of the armed forces of Ukraine who were able to achieve something in the north of the city,” Maliar told Ukrainian television. “Bakhmut is the epicenter (of fighting in the Donestk region), the Russian occupiers are tryng to encircle and seize the city.”
In the northeastern Kharkiv region, one person was killed and another was wounded in Vovchansk, a city near the border with Russia that is regularly shelled. Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said Russian forces also hit a civilian area of Kharkiv itself, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
“There is no military or infrastructure facility in the vicinity of the place of the strike,” Mayor Ihor Terekhov said. “Only residential buildings and urban infrastructure.”
Speaking on Ukrainian television, Terekhov said a boarding school, where only employees were present, had been damaged, as well as an apartment building. No casualties were immediately reported.
In the south, Russian forces shelled the city of Kherson seven times in the last 24 hours, hitting an infrastructure facility and residential buildings and wounding four people. In Dnipropetrovsk province, Russian forces shelled Nikopol and Marhanets, towns located across a river from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
Superville reported from Washington.
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